2014-09-01 / Health

It’s the end of summer: back to the rat race

By Joanne Gerr, M.S.W., C.S.W.

Labor Day weekend is the timehonored signal that the lazy days of summer are coming to an end and that fall is beginning.Trees are beginning to turn a kaleidoscope of colors, and sweater-weather days are just around the corner. Soon we will be back to the rat race of demanding schedules, the pressure to meet goals and deadlines, and the complications of modern lives.Workloads increase, school programs begin, and kids head off for kindergarten and college.

As stress ramps up, it is harder to stay healthy and balanced.Too often, when worries increase, so do unhealthy choices — especially when so many fall gatherings and holidays involve a smorgasbord of food. So when the pace picks up, we have to be able to find a calm center and seek meaningful ways to fill our lives.To keep the best of summer alive in fall routines, here are a few tips to guide you and those you love:

Fall is a time of new beginnings. Make sure you cherish the new changes you are making, how your kids are growing and learning, and the wonderful array of enriching activities in the parks, theaters, and neighborhoods. Take time with friends and family to make real connections, see new things, and enjoy what the season has to offer.

If you are bored because your kids seem to need you less as they get older, take up something new. Find a new exercise or art class. Go hear an author at a bookstore.Volunteer with a cause you care about — the park system, food banks, art programs, environmental groups, and city development projects all need extra hands to meet their goals.You can make a real and positive difference with just a few hours here and there.

Get outside.There is nothing as healing and uplifting as the natural beauty of the outdoors. Go for a walk with friends, your family, or even by yourself. Fresh air and movement can bring a lift to any mood and is a quick and easy stress-reliever for people of all ages. Plus, we are learning how important daily movement is to our short- and longterm physical, emotional, and brain health. So get up and get going!

By filling ourselves up with positive activities, we find less need for overeating and other stressbased choices. People reach for food to cope with sadness, loss, frustration, and anxiety.These are real feelings that signal important needs and changes in our lives. But eating our way through them won’t help.

Avoid power struggles. Even though we want the best for everyone in our families, trying to control every choice to make things perfect is unrealistic. It’s easy to end up feeling like a failure if we have to make everything right. Identify the truly important issues and focus on moving these forward in a positive way and let the rest go.

Try to not hang on over-tightly to our kids as they group up. Parents are meant to steer children toward healthy choices, stand up for them in rough situations, advocate for their best interests — and then allow them to grow toward independence.This may be our hardest job, and we need to take care of ourselves when they leave. Emails, texts, mobile phones, etc., can keep us more connected than earlier generations. Even so, we have to give our kids space to be themselves — let them set the frequency of contact with us.And remember, we will probably hear about the hard things when they call for comfort — and not hear about the countless good things that go on each day.

Sometimes the emptiness of loss and grief can be devastating and set us up for addictive patterns like overeating or other unhealthy choices.We may not even know what is driving our cravings, but it is likely to be inner worries and emotions.This is when we have to get up and find new things to fill our lives or find someone to talk to that we trust. We can still be models for our kids no matter how old they are — or how old we are.There is always something to learn, a way to be healthier, and a way to find peace. If we can keep growing, we show our kids that the joy in life comes from inside and not just from the grades our teachers give us, the schools we get into, or the jobs we find. Yes, these are all important, but grades and jobs come and go. Learning to weather life’s changes is an equally important skill, and fall is a great time to practice this ourselves.

So vow to worry half as much, get outside twice as much, pick up something new to learn or check out, connect over coffee or a meal with friends, and be proud of our kids with each new step. They are growing and so are we.

Joanne Gerr, M.S.W., C.S.W., is a private practitioner working with a broad spectrum of clients with offices in both New Jersey and Manhattan. Her areas of expertise include: eating disorders, overeating, weight control, binge eating, addictive behavior, the psychology of women and individual therapy. For more information, call 732-247-5112 or visit www.resolveeatingdisorders.com.

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